Defenders build the foundation in any team, giving stability at the back, allowing the attackers freedom to express thesmselves at the other end of the pitch. Despite getting less recognition for their contribution, the backline works tirelessly to maintain the team’s shape. There is more to defending than heading and clearing the ball away. Maintaining the offside line, preserving the right shape and still putting the body on the line to block a shot is not an easy task.
Let us look at the centre backs who have mastered the art of defending and are thriving in those positions at the moment:
Virgil Van Dijk
No modern day centre back has had the kind of impact Van Dijk has created at Liverpool. To overcome their defensive fragility, Jurgen Klopp signed the defender in January 2018 for a whopping £75 million. His impact was immediate. Liverpool looked disciplined at the back and stopped leaking silly goals. They reached back-to-back Champions League finals in 2018 and 2019. Having missed the first time, Liverpool won the famous European trophy the following year.
He also won the FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup with the club. Then Liverpool’s priority switched towards the league. Undeterred by the disappointment of missing out on the league title in 2019, the following year Reds won their first Premier League trophy in 30 years. Van Dijk was undoubtedly instrumental in their success. Netherlands also benefitted from his steady form as the team captained by Van Dijk finished runners-up in the inaugural UEFA Nations League.
The Portuguese centre back is one of the most in-form defenders in Europe currently. The 23-year-old defender has quickly influenced the way Manchester City defend after joining the club last summer. Dias is assured on the ball and provides a calming influence to a team that has struggled defensively in the last couple of seasons. He has helped City become the best defensive team in the Premier League so far.
It is not usual to see Pep Guardiola’s team being defensively astute, but Dias helped him add that extra element to their game. Even in Champions League, Manchester City have kept five clean sheets and conceded just the one goal in the group stage. Dias can smell the danger better and takes up good positions on the field to prevent a possible opposition counter attack. With Dias’ signing, Guardiola might have found the final piece in the puzzle to help City dominate England and Europe.
For a 22-year-old, Upamecano is surprisingly matured as a centre-back. An imposing figure at the back, he is hard to beat in one-on-one situations. Despite his huge built, Upamecano has an electric pace and can thwart the niftiest forward from making progress. With good positioning ability, the French centre back is good at reading the game.
His ability to play the ball from back is a huge asset for RB Leipzig. He is one of the few centre backs who can move the ball quickly to forward players. It was not long before elite European clubs expressed their interest for one of the continent’s hottest prospect. Bayern Munich won the race and he will join the German giants next season. His pace and physical presence makes him the perfect fit to slot straight into the high defensive line of Bayern.